Federal Patent Suit Could Benefit State Stem Cell Agency
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Friday in a preliminary ruling rejected three patents for human embryonic stem cells that are held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the New York Times reports (Pollack, New York Times, 4/3).
WARF owns patents on both the method used to isolate embryonic stem cell lines and the cells themselves after a 1998 discovery by a University of Wisconsin scientist.
The Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and New York-based Public Patent Foundation in July 2006 petitioned the federal government to revoke the patents held by WARF, saying that the patents could hinder research funded by California's stem cell agency (California Healthline, 1/23).
WARF in January revised its policies to allow the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and other researchers to distribute funding for embryonic stem cell research without purchasing a license.
FTCR and the Public Patent Foundation continued their challenge to the patents after WARF said it would maintain the right to claim a share of royalties from stem cell therapies developed using state funds if the treatments eventually were commercialized (Ortiz, Sacramento Bee, 4/3).
The patent agency ruled that the cells in the patent appeared to be the same as, or variations of, cells described in earlier scientific papers or in patents issued to others (New York Times, 4/3).
WARF has two months to respond to the ruling (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/3). If the preliminary ruling is not reversed after the foundation's response is reviewed, WARF can take the case to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. If the patents are not reinstated, WARF can file a claim in court (Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, 4/3).
WARF said the ruling was preliminary and that all patents would remain enforceable until all appeals are finished (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/3).
FTCR President Jamie Court said, "[W]hat this means for researchers in California and elsewhere is that they don't have to put up the mortgage to conduct their research" (Sacramento Bee, 4/3).